What Does the Crow Know?

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All things considered, I should hate crows, but I can’t. The first reason to dislike them popped up more than ten years ago, in the spring, just as early leaf buds were breaking. Admiring my yard from a window, I watched as a crow flew down and landed in the smaller of my two hazelnut trees, barely a sapling at the time. It hopped around a bit, cocked its head from side to side, and inspected its surroundings. Then it seized a tender branch in its sturdy beak and tugged, wrested, and ripped the branch from the tree.

My impulsive shout of, “You pig!” at the bird as it flew away was ridiculous, of course. I knew the crow wouldn’t understand my outrage on behalf of the young hazelnut tree. Furthermore, any pig within earshot would flush pink with insult. Swine, no doubt, consider their intellect superior to anything with feathers.

The crow and its thuggish buddies returned to the hazelnut many times to rend more innocent, young branches from the tree. A litter of dropped branches cluttered the lawn underneath. Apparently, crows are uninterested in any branch that has touched the ground, and the evidence of the carnage was shocking. Surprisingly, the hazelnut continued to thrive through the years, despite the assaults, so I relaxed, grudgingly, about the spring violence to its limbs.

Unfortunately, the crows escalated. The next year, after I planted out my squash seedlings, I noticed whole leaves nipped off at the base of the stem and dropped on the ground. It didn’t make sense. Slugs don’t cut off stems and ignore the tender leaf. Snails are rare in my neighbourhood.

Then I caught a crow in the act – boldly striding around the fetal pumpkin patch with a seedling leaf waving from its beak. It dropped the leaf. This was more serious than the hazelnut tree situation. The squash seedlings only had one or two true leaves each, and could ill-afford to lose all of their photosynthesizing abilities before they had a chance to establish and grow.

To protect the dwindling plants, I first erected a swarm of stakes as a barricade over the leaves. The crows had a good throaty chuckle over that; it deterred them not. Desperate, I bought a roll of chicken wire, and fashioned wire domes to stake firmly over each seedling. That did work, and I had a good, smug last-laugh…or so I thought.

Another winter, another spring, and this time, the crows decided it would be fun to uproot the bush bean seedlings as soon as they poked first leaves above the ground. I came into the garden one day to discover two-thirds of the bean seedlings lying on the soil surface, both uppers and roots, dry and defunct. Did I curse? Did I snarl? Well, yes, I did. But, I also remembered the catch phrase of one of my childhood heros, Bugs Bunny – “Of course, you know, this means war!”

My chicken-wire-and-stake architecture expanded to include a long, wide, swath-protecting structure, which I have since used to cover bush bean plantings until they are big enough to fend for themselves. Thus thwarted, the crows looked elsewhere to satisfy their urge to vandalize. One year later, they started pulling up young onion sets. I bought more chicken wire.

A couple of years of peace ensued. Then came a morning when I gazed out over the garden from my kitchen window and saw a crow vigorously digging straight down into the ground at the back of the cultivated area. The crow reared back and plunged its beak deeper and deeper. How curious, I thought, and turned away.

Oh, woe! My next excursion into the garden showed me that the crow had burrowed down to my deeply-planted scarlet runner seed, had pulled it out, and left seed and baby root to dry and die in the sun. So, I needed to invent a way to wrap chicken wire around the base of the bean poles to protect the seeds even before they broke the surface of the ground. I did.

Even now, the war continues. I protect six newly-planted crops, and the crows devise a way to ravage a seventh. I wring my hands in despair, and the manufacturers of chicken wire rub their hands together with glee. When I see two crows sitting on the power line by the hemlock trees, I imagine they are plotting and discussing strategy. My eyes narrow in response. “Bring it on,” I mutter through clenched teeth.

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I can understand, barely and grudgingly, that a crow would uproot a seedling to see if any grub or worm might be hiding under the roots. I do not understand why a crow would pluck off infant squash leaves or dig deep to pull out and discard a scarlet runner seed. Nor do I understand why the crows left my plantings alone for many, many years when I first gardened, yet now uproot anything I set out. Why? I ask. Why?

What does the crow know?

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